Balloons, water, kayaks, and great guides add-up to a different way to enjoy the 2019 ABQ International Balloon Festival.

As thousands of people pile into Fiesta Park, my friend, Susan, and I met twenty other eager adventurers at Quiet Waters Paddling Adventurers to get outfitted for a morning on the Rio Grande.

2019 ABQ Balloon Fiesta

The first Albuquerque Balloon Festival began April, 1972 with thirteen balloons, launched from the Coronado Mall parking lot as 10,000 spectators watched.  The success of the first outing encouraged the developers to move the event to October because the New Mexico weather is better then.

Fast forward to the 2019 festival, there were 570 balloons and a daily attendance of 100,000 kids of all ages which makes this the world’s largest hot air balloon festival.

At 5:15 a.m., our adventurous group gathered around a table filled with morning snacks at Quiet Waters Paddling Adventures, headquartered in Bernalillo, about 26 miles north of Abuquerque. Soon, we secured our PFDs (personal flotation device) and, with paddles in hand, climbed into waiting vans.

It was dark when we arrived at the Rio Grande River where our kayaks were waiting.

Kayaks waiting for us at the edge of the Rio Grande.

After a briefing from Jace, our lead guide, we climbed into our kayaks and began getting comfortable paddling down the river. The mist hugged the river like a spooky Halloween movie. Light began to flicker in the sky as the Dawn Patrol balloons rose to test the winds. Yes, this was going to be a perfect balloon day.

Early morning fog rising from the Rio as we paddle down the river.

Rio and DJ, our super, wonderful guides, spread out among the kayaks to make sure everyone was doing well. As the sun pushed the night into oblivion, balloons filled the sky.

The guides were there to help us in case of problems.

There we were, just us, bobbing on the water, the only sound was the “soosh” of the balloons’ fire. Our jaws went slack. Our cellphones began to click; there were no bad pics. So much color. Such an amazing vision.

The balloons filled the sky with color.

We docked our kayaks on a small island in the middle of the Rio. The guides set up tables and Rio (guide) ignited a small Coleman stove to toast bagels.

Rio, our guide, making brunch a meal to rival any anywhere.

As we ogled the balloons, the guides set up a buffet of yogurt, blueberries, raspberries, chunky granola, cream cheese, and smoked salmon (yes–awesome) adorn the tables.

Jace, lead guide, gives us instructions on the 2nd leg of the trip.

We quickly fed our tummies as the balloons began entertaining us with “dip and dash,” the balloons dipped their baskets into the Rio, then lifted into the sky. We ran into the water to high five the ballooners. Maybe as many as fifteen balloons thrilled us with their visit.

The balloon doing a “dip and dash” into the Rio.

With the adrenaline pumping, we climbed into our kayaks to paddle a few more miles to the bridge. Once we arrived at the bridge, our adventure was coming to an end. The van transported us back to Quiet Waters headquarters. We bid farewell to our new friends and knew we had made forever memories.

Balloon Facts:

  1.  Cost of tickets to Fiesta Park:  Adults, $15, Seniors, $12, Children (6-12), $7, Bus only, $12
  2.  Parking at Fiesta Park:  $15/vehicle
  3.  Quiet Waters Paddling Adventure: $95

About the Author:

In 2010, Annie Coburn created FAB Senior Travel, a blog for mature and adventurous travelers. Her blog features travel articles from contributors as well as her own travels.  Annie has published five travel books targeting the greatest cities on earth: Walk Paris, Walk Beijing, Walk London, Walk NYC, and Ellie’s Grand Adventure. She recently spent seven-months living and traveling in South America.

You are invited to subscribe:

Website: http://